Day 6 – Entering Iran

12 May

Breakfast in Mary was a small affair. And deserted.  Thought jam was jelly.  Was refused a second glass of juice. Side stepped the salad and cold “sausages”. Dug out the UK breakfast bars instead.

Managed to leave just after the agreed departure time of 7:30am. We stopped off at a roadside oven to collect some freshly baked bread for our packed lunch. Caroline managed to acquire a wooden marker for the bread.

With air con on, we had a three hour drive to the Iranian border, in our yellow minibus.  Not long out of Mary, our driver was pulled over by the traffic police (Pygg) for speeding.  50km/h in a 40 zone! Funnily enough, it was only a 40 zone immediately around the pygg. He opted for the quick payment method and was back in the bus in less than 2 minutes.  Bet that wasn’t recorded anywhere. We were stopped a further twice, we think because we were in a yellow minibus – a very unusual colour – or it could be because the police are bored.

The three hours became 4.5 hours and we arrived at the border during the Turkmen lunch time.  We waited for 1 hour and 20 minutes until they’d decided to come back to work, despite the fact that they are supposed to stagger their lunches to remain open at all times. The young guards were chatty with their very limited English. Obviously interested though and not at all intimating.

We waved goodbye to Maksat and took a small bus across the large no man’s land. With lots of trucks coming the other way it was difficult to cross the single track bridge to enter Iran. The flags in the middle indicated we were on Iranian territory and a very disinterested guard was busy finishing his lunch as he waved us through.

Inside the passenger hall we met our new guide – Mashaneh – a woman dressed in dark navy, who had studied English and was good, but didn’t understand everything we said.

As we changed our watches back half an hour to the Iranian time zone, the American, Carolyn, was led off to a separate room. She had her fingerprints taken but was safely back with us shortly. Passport control people were on their lunch so it took another hour or so to get through with our passports stamped.  We headed into the next area – literally 5m from where we had been sitting – and asked to sit down again.

This was a customs check, and a man in a checked shirt with a limp asked us to open our bags so that he could have a good rummage around. He lost interest in my bag quickly, thankfully. Think he was more interested in finding alcohol and drugs. Carolyn had previously passed the last of the vodka to Maksat. She said.

When they were satisfied, we headed out to another bus to take us to Mashhad. First though we had to persuade the guide that we had already eaten our packed lunches and we didn’t need any more food. We think she’d been there for many hours and was probably starving, so she stopped off at a local restaurant and brought back some kebabs and rice in takeaway containers. Enough for everyone to sample and then some. Despite many hints to stop and eat, Max persuaded her that time was important, so we drove on, with the food being distributed enroute. It is difficult to pour coke in a moving vehicle.

After about an hour on a smooth road surface, and constant talking from the guide, we arrived at Robat-e-Sharaf an ancient caravanserais on the Silk Road  – a place for the camel and horse caravans to stay the night before moving on.  It was therefore a place to exchange goods and news. Kings traveled to Mecca and back using these overnight stopping points. This one was special in many ways.

A Professor from Mashhad University and his students were hands on in the reconstruction of the site. As an expert, it was an honour to have him explain many of the important aspects of the site and about his approach to restoring where possible, but not guessing and restoring where the details were not known.

We took lots of photos and signed the guest book before having a group photo.

The farmers in the group started to investigate the green crops in the neighbouring fields.  I learnt a lot about farming. And also that Lamborghini make tractors. And that the “DB” in the Aston Martin brand means “David Brown” who also made tractors. Who knew?

Back on the road, more Iranian facts were discussed, whilst I tried to stay awake.

Just before arriving in Mashhad, a lightning storm loomed overhead. No thunder. Weird.

By this time it was 8pm and we headed straight for a local central bazaar. We walked through the two corridors for 1.5km with most people ignoring us.  Those that didn’t were trying to sell us stuff. William was unsuccessfully looking for a pair of socks to use tomorrow. We got sidetracked with all the different spices, sweets and nuts on offer. Coconut jellies weren’t so popular.

Unfortunately the bank was closed so we couldn’t change money.

We did head to a local restaurant that had lots of locals eating at plastic covered tables. Being late at night, most of us stayed safe with only soup – barley, milk and mushroom soup with a chicken stock.  Some tried the non alcoholic “malt” which came in original, apple or lemon flavours. The tablecloths were just lots of layers of plastic which were whipped away with all the contents inside at the end of the meal. Didn’t finish until 10:30pm!

We headed to the 5 star Pardisan hotel and I collapsed in a heap – after discovering that WhatsApp works and BBC doesn’t. The”World Service” radio turned out to be the Iranian English version and I feel asleep to the strains of patriotic fervour.

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